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Even without Faith, Religion Must Be Returned to the Public Square

Sept. 8 2017

Commenting on the challenges Western society faces as religion goes into decline, Jonathan Sacks urges both believers and non-believers to keep religion part of public life.

[I]f you are a regular goer to church, synagogue, or other place of worship, you are more likely to help a stranger in need, give a meal to the hungry, shelter someone who’s homeless, find somebody a job, give to charity (whether the cause is religious or secular), and get involved in voluntary work. The best predictor is not class, ethnicity, or education. The best indicator is: do you or don’t you go regularly to a house of worship.

[The eminent sociologist] Robert Putnam refined this thesis and said that it doesn’t matter what you believe, but whether you go. An atheist who went regularly to church is more likely to be an altruist than a deeply-believing believer who keeps to himself. So if you’re an atheist in synagogue, you’re probably a decent kind of guy. We have lots of atheists in synagogue. One of them, the great, late, much-lamented philosopher at Columbia University, Sidney Morgenbesser . . . said when he was ill, “I don’t know why God is so angry with me just because I don’t believe in Him.”

If atheists are to attend houses of worship, writes Sacks, believers must not seal themselves off:

In today’s world, religion can do one of three things. Number one, it can attempt to conquer society. That is the radical Islamist version. Number two, it can withdraw from society. That is the ultra-Orthodox option or [what some Christians call] the “Benedict option.” Or number three, it can attempt to re-inspire society. . . .

If we adopt the first option, the radical anti-Western option, we will move straight into the dark ages. If we adopt the second option, we will survive the dark ages, but they will still be dark. But if we adopt the third option of being true to ourselves and yet engaged in the public square, we have a chance of avoiding the dark [ages]. . . .

So what do I mean by religion in the public square? I mean simply religion as a consecration of the bonds that connect us, religion as the redemption of our solitude, religion as loyalty and love, religion as altruism and compassion, religion as covenant and commitment, religion that consecrates marriage, that sustains community and helps reweave the torn fabric of society. That kind of religion is content to be a minority. Jews have been a minority wherever we went for 2,000 years. [Even when its adherents belong to] a minority, religion can be a huge influence.

Read more at Standpoint

More about: Decline of religion, Religion & Holidays, Secularism, Synagogue

How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen